Situated in North West Province, Madikwe is a magnificent game reserve where visitors have the opportunity to observe the Big Five and many other animal species, as well as numerous reptiles, insects and birds (the reserve’s bird list stands at more than 350 species). The temperature year-round is moderate to hot and the average annual rainfall is 500 millimetres, although this has been decreasing over the past few years.
It was with this in mind that the owners of a four-star lodge in the western section of the reserve contacted us to assist with their garden. Their primary goal was to redesign it in order to reduce the amount of water it guzzled. The original lawn covered an area of 1600 square metres and consisted of a mix of kikuyu and LM grasses. It was (and still is) a magnificent sweeping lawn, but the extensive watering cycles it needed to keep it looking green and healthy were having a severe impact on the lodge’s water consumption.
Water is a scarce commodity in the region and, with the recent drought and uncertainty over the changing climate, efficient water usage is always going to be a concern. So the transition to a more water-efficient – and wildlife-friendly – garden was important for the lodge. There were other notable problems to resolve too: the lawn’s thirst was having a negative impact on some of the trees, specifically the beautiful row of coral trees Erythrina lysistemon that frame the outer edge of the garden. Generally, coral trees go dormant in winter and should not be watered during the dry season, but because of their proximity to the lawn they had received year-round watering.
Our first task was to map out the lawn and put together a proposal that would include a reduction in its area as well as an adjustment to the irrigation system in order to maximise its efficiency. We came up with a concept design that converted lawn areas on the periphery and around focal trees into five functional garden zones of indigenous plants that have low water requirements.
1. Forest garden
A shady section linking the lodge to the service area had been planted with LM lawn around a cluster of trees. We replaced the lawn with shade-loving hen-and-chickens Chlorophytum comosum, bush lilies Clivia miniata and a grouping of large-leaved dragon trees Dracaena aletriformis. To enhance the forest feel, the pathway was covered with bark chips.
2. Chill zone
Although frangipani trees are not indigenous, we decided to retain a grouping of them that formed a focal point in the middle of the lawn. Aiming to create an intimate seating space, we removed a roughly circular section of lawn around the trees and mass planted the area with weeping anthericum Chlorophytum saundersiae to create a mini-grassland. The centre was covered with bark chips and two pod chairs were added to provide seating.
3. Pond planting
First we extended the bed around the existing koi pond to wrap around it completely and then we planted a mix of agapanthus Agapanthus praecox, large wild iris Dietes grandiflora and common rush Juncus effusus. The plants, along with the rocks we placed in the bed, have created additional habitat for tiny creatures living around the water.
4. Waterhole view
A section of the eastern side of the garden was completely under-utilised and had a dry bed with just one species: mother-in-law’s tongue Sanseveria sp. We extended this bed and created a pathway to meander through it and lead to a bench positioned to give a good view of the activities at the nearby waterhole. As this area is predominantly in the sun, we selected plants that would entice birds and butterflies, including wild dagga Leonotis leonorus, tree fuchsia Halleria lucida and wild peach Kiggelaria africana.
5. Return to veld
The irrigation for the section of lawn in front of the coral trees was removed to allow the area to return to veld. This has the added benefit of providing the coral trees with less water so that they can go dormant in winter. When selecting plants for the garden we wanted to make sure that the species we chose are suited to Madikwe’s climate. With this in mind, we reviewed the reserve’s plant list and opted for species that would work well in the lodge’s garden setting, such as African wattle Peltophorum africanum and wild olive Olea europaea subsp. africana. Then, within the microclimate of the garden, we chose plant species based on whether they prefer sun, semi-shade or shade, as well as for their screening or ‘framing’ potential for specific guest areas. Some species were selected to attract sunbirds, with sunbird bush Metarungia longistrobus an obvious choice, while others, such as pincushion Scabiosa africana, were chosen to entice butterflies. These were positioned to encourage bird and butterfly movement around the garden. It was rewarding to see how quickly the local wildlife responded: an acraea butterfly began feeding on the bagged plants within minutes of their delivery!
In the end we reduced the lawn area by 33 per cent and, with adjustments to the irrigation system in line with the new garden layout and changes to the run times, the result is a water saving of 22 500 litres per week. In addition, the garden is teeming with wildlife, so guests can experience nature not only on a game drive, but also by merely relaxing around the lodge.